GREEN BAY, Wis. -- NFL games aren't won or lost in May and June. Mike McCarthy knows that, of course. But come the late hours of Sept. 28, when the Green Bay Packers' Week 3 game against the Kansas City Chiefs finishes, what McCarthy and coaching staff have undertaken this offseason will make a difference.
At least that's what he hopes.
If not, the Packers might be staring at a 1-2 start for the fourth straight season.
In each of the previous three seasons, McCarthy has summoned something from his team that it did not have in the first three weeks of the season because they have always recovered from that maddening start to win their next game and, ultimately, the NFC North.
That, however, is not the desired situation for a coach who appears to have grown tired of playing from behind.
"Obviously we need to start the season better," McCarthy said recently. "[A] 2-2 [start] is not going to cut it this year."
To help avoid that, McCarthy has adopted a philosophical change when it comes to the offseason implementation of his fundamentals and his playbook. For much of McCarthy's first nine seasons, his plan was to teach to the lowest common denominator, i.e. the youngest players on his team. And with a roster that's perennially one of the youngest in the league, it made sense not to overload the inexperienced.
That plan is no more.
As McCarthy put it: "The young guys need to catch up."
"We're challenging the older guys to bring the younger guys up and then coach those younger guys in more of a one-on-one fashion," McCarthy said. "It's just finding as many different ways as you possibly can to motivate and continue to grow as a program."
Last season, it took the Packers until the second half of the season to find any consistency on defense.
"If you look at us over the last few years, that first quarter of the season has been 50-50, and then all of a sudden we reach a point in there where we find our niche and then we go like that," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said pointing upward. "The goal is, let’s try to come out of the blocks efficient enough that you can play the good teams and win against the good teams."
Last year, it took a bye-week move by Pro Bowl outside linebacker Clay Matthews to the interior of the defense to jumpstart Capers' unit. It turns out, that was not just a temporary fix. Matthews has spent the bulk of his time this offseason with the inside linebackers.
If keeping Matthews at inside linebacker for at least part of the time helps the Packers start faster, then Matthews is willing.
"We need to start the season off strong," Matthews said. "We can't put ourselves in a hole. In doing so, that requires me to play a few positions on the defense."
In the bigger picture, it's also an indication that McCarthy trusts his veterans as much as ever. In fact, last week he said this team could have "our best veteran base for our football team."
Part of that could be what he has on offense. All 11 starters return from last year, when the Packers led the NFL in points (30.4 per game), thanks to general manager Ted Thompson’s moves to re-sign right tackle Bryan Bulaga and receiver Randall Cobb in March.
"It's a great advantage," said associate head coach Tom Clements, who will call the offensive plays this year. "Guys playing together, they have a lot of experience. They've been successful together. It's just a matter of knocking the rust off and getting back ready to play.
"When we get to training camp, we want to have our foot on the gas and be in midseason form. We'd like to be there at the beginning of the season rather than wait until mid-season."